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Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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WEST DES MOINES — Austin Blythe has become what Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz wants in a starting center. He’s also everything defensive tackle Carl Davis needs in practice.
Blythe, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior, competes against the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Davis daily and has done so for three years. The two have a bond forged in sweat, blood and bruises, and Davis respects what the Williamsburg native brings against him every day in practice.
“Austin, he is a technician,” said Davis, a senior. “He’s not necessarily an undersized guy. But when he’s going against me a little bit, he might be. When he gets his hands inside, he stays low, he’s aggressive. He’s a wrestler in high school so he has that grit to him.
“(We) battle it out, and I love going against him. There weren’t too many centers that were better than him that I played.”
Blythe became what Ferentz needs in a center, basically because he stayed in the lineup last year. As a freshman right guard two years ago, Blythe started nine games but missed two with injuries. Like many freshmen, he was inconsistent. Last year he did a better job of staying with blocks and staying on the field.
“Austin played some as a freshman, but he had a lot of injury issues and was doing well and went down to the bottom again,” Ferentz said. “He got hurt, so it was a disrupted year. But last year he really did pretty well, and he did well from the onset as far as playing.”
Blythe was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection last year by media and coaches. He anchored a unit that gave up the fewest sacks in the Big Ten (15). He started all 13 games a year ago, including Iowa’s Outback Bowl appearance against LSU. He now has 22 career starts, including 18 consecutive.
Perhaps the most difficult transition for Blythe was taking on the intangibles. His predecessor, James Ferentz, was the unquestioned offensive leader. He was an on-field extension of the coaching staff and a vocal presence in all situations.
Blythe is more understated but is learning to lead in his own way. That’s what his teammates and coaches expect from him.
“James was a great vocal leader, and that’s something that’s extremely hard to replace,” Iowa senior tackle Andrew Donnal said. “But Austin is doing a great job leading in every way that he can. He’s done a great job in everything we’ve asked from him.
“He’s got to be a leader because he’s calling the offenses and he’s basically running the line. He’s got to be someone who can take charge and lead us all and someone that we can trust and be confident and help us do what we want to do.”
“I think he’s a more confident player now,” Coach Ferentz said. “I think he realizes he can be pretty good at that position. I think also the fact that he has played center for a year now, just like (quarterback) Jake (Rudock), you can probably feel a little bit more comfortable, being a little bit more assertive and helping some of the younger guys along, too, the guys who haven’t played as much.”
Blythe is as meticulous when discussing his role as he is displaying his blocking technique. He mentions leadership and consistency as his primary areas of improvement this off-season. When asked for specifics, Blythe simply said, “Just doing it better,” he said. “That’s something I need to focus on.”
He’s also a quick learner, Davis said.
“One day in my pass rush I might get him,” Davis said. “Then he’ll change something up. He might switch his offhand and block me with that in the pass rush.”
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